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  • Pia Klemp is one of the few female boat captains, when only 1 in 100 sea captains are women.

    Pia Klemp is one of the few female boat captains, when only 1 in 100 sea captains are women. | Photo: @VivianAngrisani

Published 11 June 2019

With her crew, Klemp rescued over 1,000 migrants that were in risk of drowning while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

German boat captain, Pia Klemp, faces a long and costly trial and possible 20 years of jail in Italy for her humanitarian efforts in aiding stranded migrants in the Mediterranean with the private rescue ships “Sea Watch III” and “Iuventa.” 

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"Sea rescue missions have been criminalized," the 35-year-old sea captain told German media outlet Basler Zeitung on June 7, adding that whether or not she ends up in jail she would challenge the ruling in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

With her crew, Klemp rescued over 1,000 migrants that were in risk of drowning while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Now she has been charged in Sicily for “assisting in illegal immigration,” as part of far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s crackdown on migration. 

"Italy's fascists are using this case as a showcase to deter others from aiding migrants," international analyst and professor Rula Jebreal said on Twitter, adding that “they would prefer to let people drown in the Mediterranean."

Since assuming office, the far-right PM has sought to put a stop to migrant rescue ships docking on Italian shores and allowing refugees to disembark, under the banner of “Italy First.” On April 2019, he refused for another Sea Watch ship to dock in Italy, the vessel had saved 12 women, an 11-month-old girl and a 6-year-old boy among the group of migrants.

However, as the captain explains her actions and those of other rescue boats in the Mediterranean are completely legal and protected by the 1982 United Nations (U.N.) Law of the Sea

According to its article 98, “every state shall require the master of a ship” to “render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost” and “proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress.”

Since 2014, estimates place the number of deaths in the Mediterranean between 15,000 and 20,000. Just in 2019, the figure stands at 543 according to the International Organization for Migration. 

Asylum seekers flee persecution and extreme exploitation in African and Middle Eastern countries yet risk the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded or unfit ships to hopefully reach Europe. Some 640,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since 2014, mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. 

Meanwhile, a petition on Change.org calling for the charges against the sea captain to be dropped has already received over 78,000 signatures. In its message for supporters, the warning is clear that if Klemp was to be sentenced for her actions it “would mean the unconditional  abdication of humanity in Europe.”

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